“Awake! Awake! Ye sisters all,” is the opening line to the “Suffrage Marching Song,” by Fanny Connable and Florence Livingston Lent, composed in 1914 to benefit the Equal Suffrage Cause. Like many political movements, the suffrage movement was inherently linked with music, making the 2020 centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification a natural programmatic theme. Choruses across the U.S. are honoring this anniversary with new events and commissions featuring women’s voices, including premieres happening this weekend.
However, despite the words of the “Suffrage Marching Song,” the 19th Amendment was not for “sisters all.” Millions of women in the Black, Native American, Latinx, and East Asian communities continued to be disenfranchised for decades and voting disparities persist to this day. In commemorating the 19th Amendment, many groups are also finding ways to highlight the contributions of voices of color to the women’s movement and to acknowledge that movement’s complicated history.
Vox Femina: “Shout the Revolution!”
Vox Femina’s virtual event “Shout the Revolution!” premieres on Sunday, November 1 (4pm PST). Centered around the question of female empowerment, the event aims to honor the right to vote ahead of Election Day on November 3. This event also features the film premiere of the Suffrage Cantata, a brand-new 5-movement choral commission from composer Andrea Ramsey. "Shout the Revolution" blends historical images and footage alongside videos of singers and the musicians themselves, capturing what it means to truly have a voice.
MUSE Cincinnati's Women’s Choir: My Voice, My Vote, My Right
MUSE Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir is holding a virtual rally, also on Sunday, November 1 (7pm EST). The group is actively involved with social justice initiatives, making the subject of the 19th Amendment and intersectionality (the interconnected relationship between race and other aspects of identity) particularly in keeping with the organization’s mission. While MUSE has been releasing individual virtual concerts as part of its “My Vote, My Voice, My Right” series over the past several months, this weekend's event presents a full collection of the pieces and world-premiere video The Revolution. This event will focus on the 19th Amendment’s centennial, Black women’s experience, youth civic participation, income disparity, modern day barriers to voting, and LGBTQ rights.
GALA Choruses: Lifting As We Climb
This August, GALA Choruses premiered a virtual program dedicated to their 2020 Roma Commission Project, Lifting As We Climb, composed by Joan Szymko. The four-movement work was dedicated not only to celebrating the 19th Amendment, but also to shining a light on the inequity of its history and the present day disenfranchisement of many Americans. The title is drawn from the writings of Black suffragist, Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women and Charter member of the NAACP. While 18 choirs participated in the commission project, only four were able to perform the work this year at their respective concerts before COVID-19: The Seattle Women’s Chorus, Portland Lesbian Chorus, Denver Women’s Chorus, and Voices Rising. All four are featured in the virtual program hosted by GALA.
Chorosynthesis: Votes for Women Choral Consortium
In part because of COVID-19, Chorosynthesis has extended the deadline for choirs to join its Votes for Women Choral Consortium: “Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs.” The multi-movement work by composer Melissa Dunphy utilized a team of text curators to celebrate women's suffrage through underrepresented voices and bring to the forefront those who still fight for the right to vote today. Each movement is composed in such a way that it may be excerpted or that a conductor may pick and choose which movements to perform.
San Francisco Girls Chorus: “Rightfully Ours”
Rightfully Ours, a fully-staged choral music and dance co-production with the Berkeley Ballet Theater and the San Francisco Girls Chorus’s (SFGC) Premier Ensemble, premiered in February 2020. The program featured new choreography by seven choreographers set to contemporary choral repertoire performed by SFGC, including two world premiere SFGC commissions by women composers: Angélica Negrón and Aviya Kopelman. The piece was carefully crafted to celebrate progress while also examining persistent disparities, a focus that is particularly poignant when presented by the next generation of women.
Looking for more?
There are many more premieres and concerts inspired by the 19th Amendment that are ongoing and available for you to watch. Here is a selection:
- Amuse Singers: “Set Myself Free”
- Atlanta Women’s Chorus: “She Rises!”
- Peninsula Women’s Chorus: “Hands upon the Plow”
- VocalEssence: “Rightfully Hers”